Instrumental rock is a dangerous territory in a digital era of increasingly short attention spans unwilling to give an album more than one or two spins before ejecting it to the recycle bin – Krautrock jams (think 120 Days, Neu!, or Amon Düül) have fared better historically, their penchant for hypno-chic easily catching ‘cool’ in the crosshairs. The sleepy, repetitive rhythms make a B line to that niche of folks who always said ‘no’ to just drugs and ‘yes’ to drugs, rock, and the proverbial astral trip.
Liverpool’s Mugstar have been targeting that same niche for over a decade since their first single Spotlight Over Memphis (2003) and follow up 7” Flavin’ Hotrod (2004) gained them enough attention to win a session with the legendary John Peel. The band – Pete Smyth (guitars/vocals), Neil Murphy (guitars/noise), Jason Stoll (bass/sax), and Steve Ashton (drums), with additional visual/multimedia by Sam Wiehl/Robert Parker – are prolific by nature with a rich and varied discography that built upon that initial BBC radio exposure; momentum that carried them through a slew of additional 7”s, including a 2008 split with Seattle’s Mudhoney (Born To Go), numerous label deals, and six full lengths.
Mugstar’s seventh and latest release Magnetic Seasons continues the winning streak of a series of awesome underground instrumental psych rock releases that seemingly peaked with last year’s Spectral Domain (Dead Sea Apes) – 70 + minutes spanned over nine tracks; imagine an even headier post Aufheben era Brian Jonestown Massacre with a little less 60s influence and a bit more alternative flex and attack –Unearth explodes from the start, its initial seconds building on a tension of repetitive arpeggios with a paired rhythm section that grants just the right amount of relief and balance. The drums are often very forward in the mix, and it works for a band this dynamic and tight. The song continues its six minute assault through various terrains – a short span of galloping riff rock, a trek through reverberated psych-jazz – all anchored to the lead bass lick. You achieve that climactic lift off, but Mugstar keeps you tethered, even if you don’t quite realize it.
They are masters at working and kneading a riff to its limits – after a beautifully delicate intro, Flemish Weave drives a simple chord progression to its indiscernible ‘limit’, hypnotic lead work breathing new life and light and elevating what would be a pedestrian mid-track jam to a really engaging, sweet listen. Time Machine plays a similar hand, its evolution from deceptively timid cool to full on up tempo blues/psych chaos is a treat to behold in itself. But the band really shreds this one, with enough solo freak-outs to veer clear of boredom and enough tasteful repetition to make 15 + minute tracks (Remember The Breathing, Ascension Island) feel like a fraction of that – maybe this is the true meaning of ‘lost time’ – no alien abductions, no conspiracy theories, just great fucking rock…plain and simple.
Mugstar eases the boundaries in the second half of the album, pushing the mind expanding psych several tiers higher – the blissfully sublime Regency Blues and the title track maintain a consistent ethereality to their arrangements. The latter’s light electric acoustics envelope and harmonize in true orchestral fashion, grounded by impressive kick-snare acrobatics; Magnetic Seasons never grows old, never grows stale, and delivers for the full ride. Grant it, for the hordes of listeners hell bent on immediate gratification, who accumulate and discard digital music files as their ADHD dictates, this heft of material may be a bit much to handle…my advice: clear your calendars, clear your inbox, medicate, meditate, do whatever the fuck you need to do and give this record a solid spin. Trust me, this trip is worth it.
Scribed by: Jeremy Moore